Putting the public back in public relations

Putting the public back in public relations

The last thing you need to read following the European Referendum and the US election is the perspective of a middle aged British white man but here goes.

PRWeek published an article on the day of the US election with comments on the likely outcome from senior executives from various public relations agencies. None predicted that Donald Trump would win.

The 20 people that PRWeek sought out weren’t alone. Very few people in the media or public relations predicted the outcome.

I haven’t any answers but I’ve lots of questions. I share this list of issues that I think we need to spend time contemplating in the spirit of learning and development.


Publics are powerless and fed up with austerity and globalisation. They want to be able to work, and have a safeguard for health and welfare from the state if they can’t. If you live in the UK go and see Ken Loach's new film I, Daniel Blake. The enthusiasm for change was so strong that publics were prepared to overlook any downside of Trump as US President, or the UK outside the European Union.


Nigel Farage has never been elected to Westminster, although he’s a MEP in Brussels. Yet he spearheaded the vote to leave the European Union. Donald Trump has no experience in public office and won the US election. Trust in political elites is at an all time low. The US public decided a business man would effect better change than the establishment.


Pollsters got the UK General Election, European Referendum, and US election wrong. The business is broken. The post-mortem into what’s wrong is a work in progress but it’s clear that we need to find alternatives if we want to understand publics.

Social media bubbles

Facebook and Twitter’s algorithms reinforce your own opinions through the content that they serve. We need to break away from the throttle of social media if we want to explore diverse views.


You won’t find answers in Washington or Westminster to the questions. Travelling, talking and listening to publics in diverse communities is the only way to begin to understand what publics really think.

Social media personalities

This is truly the age of the cult of personality, now reflected on social media. Kim Kardashian has more followers on Instagram than almost any news organisation. Trump has a significant Twitter presence. These are a powerful means of influence that go unchecked and are often underestimated.


We need the sharpest journalist skills and a strong and critical media to challenge, check facts and balance government and society. We also need media regulators to do their job and call publishers to account. I’m not enormously optimistic.


Whether we want to face it or not, society is not as accepting of women leaders as we’d like to think. Despite claims of sex abuse by Trump, media coverage was frequently more damning of his opponent Hillary Clinton.


We live in a society obsessed with reality shows. As a reality TV star, many of the US public no doubt felt they knew Trump better and had more in common with him than Clinton.  This was a likely a significant factor in his election.

We not me

Here’s a paradox, whether you like or loathe Trump, the celebrity television personality succeeded in creating a movement. He set out a simple vision to 'Make America Great Again', and challenged people to join him in creating change.

Visionary soundbites

Trump successfully delivered a simple inspirational message challenging people to 'Make America Great Again'. The European Referendum was defined by the message 'Take Back Control'. In our social, algorithmic driven media, emotion wins over fact, every single time.

Photo by Gage Skidmore via Flickr, with thanks.

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